In an essay earlier this semester, a student quoted Proverbs 18:9 as evidence that laziness was viewed negatively in ancient Israel, expressing themselves in a modern way which seemed to envisage someone who relies on handouts or the system and refuses to work.
Prov. 18:9 says:
One who is slack in work is close kin to a vandal.
Or in another rendering:
A lazy person is as bad as someone who destroys things.
I offered a comment asking about what this verse actually shows. Proverbs is written by and for a wealthy ruling elite. And so it might well be that only such wealthy ruling people had the luxury of being lazy. For the majority of people, laziness meant certain death, since even with hard work there was no guarantee of survival.
Reading Proverbs as a person with a relatively elite status today, but also one that inhabits a very different socio-economic reality, makes it likely that a text like this one will be misunderstood.
And so perhaps the warnings about laziness in Proverbs, even though they come from a very different place and time, are still as relevant as ever. One doesn’t even need to recognize that the rich are its original audience. One simply needs to take to heart the message of the Book of Job – that the kind of wisdom found in Proverbs is only helpful as a guide to personal self-assessment, and is dangerous when foolishly used as a weapon to condemn others.
As Proverbs 26:9 says, “A proverb in the mouth of a fool is like a thorny branch brandished by a drunk.”